Piercing calls and distinctive wing markings make the otherwise subdued Willet one of our most conspicuous large shorebirds. Whether in mottled brown breeding plumage or gray winter colors, Willets in flight reveal a bold white and black stripe running the length of each wing. These long-legged, straight-billed shorebirds feed along beaches, mudflats, and rocky shores. Willets are common on most of our coastline—learn to recognize them and they’ll make a useful stepping-stone to identifying other shorebirds.
Although both parents incubate the eggs, only the male Willet spends the night on the nest.
Like Killdeer, Willets will pretend to be disabled by a broken wing in order to draw attention to themselves and lure predators away from their eggs or chicks.
Because they find prey using the sensitive tips of their bills, and not just eyesight, Willets can feed both during the day and at night.
Willets breeding in the interior of the West differ from the Atlantic Coastal form in ecology, shape, and subtly in calls. Western Willets breed in freshwater habitats, and are slightly larger and paler gray. Eastern Willets have stouter bills and more barring on their chest and back. The difference in pitch between the calls of the two subspecies is very difficult for a person to detect, but the birds can hear the difference and respond more strongly to recorded calls of their own type.
Willets and other shorebirds were once a popular food. In his famous Birds of America accounts, John James Audubon wrote that Willet eggs were tasty and the young “grow rapidly, become fat and juicy, and by the time they are able to fly, afford excellent food.” By the early 1900s, Willets had almost vanished north of Virginia. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 banned market hunting and marked the start of the Willet’s comeback.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR
You can usually tell the difference between the Greater vs Lesser Yellowlegs by the bill. The Lesser has a shorter bill.
The Lesser Yellowlegs is a slender, long-legged shorebird that readily shows off the brightly colored legs that give it its name. It is an active feeder, often running through the shallow water to chase its prey.
Both the male and female Lesser Yellowlegs provide parental care to the young, but the female tends to leave the breeding area before the chicks can fly, thus leaving the male to defend the young until fledging.
Photographed in beautiful Anahuac NWR
Black-necked Stilts are among the most stately of the shorebirds, with long rose-pink legs, a long thin black bill, and elegant black-and-white plumage that make them unmistakable at a glance. They move deliberately when foraging, walking slowly through wetlands in search of tiny aquatic prey. When disturbed, stilts are vociferous, to put it mildly, and their high, yapping calls carry for some distance.
Five species of rather similar-looking stilts are recognized in the genus Himantopus. They have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird, exceeded only by flamingos.
The Hawaiian subspecies of Black-necked Stilt (knudseni) has the black of its neck reaching much farther forward than the mainland forms. Habitat loss and hunting led to a sharp decline in its numbers. The few freshwater wetlands found on the Hawaiian Islands are its main habitat. Its name in the Hawaiian language is Aeo, which means "one standing tall.”
Black-necked stilts sometimes participate in a "popcorn display,” which involves a group of birds gathering around a ground predator and jumping, hopping, or flapping to drive it away from their nests.
The oldest recorded Black-necked Stilt was at least 12 years, 5 months old. it was banded in Venezuela and refound in the Lesser Antilles.